My father Eric was born 21 March 1912 at “Hillside” Raymond Terrace, Brisbane Australia to father Stephen Thomas Grice aged 19, practicing at that time as a Jeweller and Engraver in Brisbane, and Phyllis Ann Ida formerly Robertson, but known as Anderson, also aged 19.
The big news at the time was a nationwide tussle between government and clergy over the evils of mixed bathing. Archbishop Carr said mixed bathing was an abomination. It showed contempt for women and for the veil of modesty that was the great protection of the gentler sex, and brutalized men. He was supported by the Presbyterian Church and Methodist Conference.
In Kalgoorlie Western Australia the Australian Natives Association gave notice of a resolution calling for Australia to be a republic. The debate still rages today.
Eric’s early years were spent at Dutton Park, Brisbane. The house they lived in by the river was in a remote area for those times. It was a two-storey house, the living area being street level and downstairs area containing kitchen and laundry facilities. The back yard ended with a steep drop off to the Brisbane River. Eric attended Dutton Park State School, finishing his education at the Brisbane Boys Grammar School.
By the time Eric had reached age 12, his father Stephen citing irreconcilable differences left the house, and being unable to adequately support the family, supplemented his income through trumpet playing on the streets. In newspaper reports of the time it is mentioned he came to centre his life around the music community where he became known in theatrical circles in addition to being a member of the Trocadero Orchestra. Phyllis supported the family by working at various jobs, including employment in Brisbane movie theatres. Music seems to have been a common interest of the Grice clan as Eric later taught him-self to play the piano and organ and became an acceptable musician.
At age 12 Eric was enthralled by a newspaper report speeches made at a dinner in New York were transmitted 7,000 miles by radio to a British station in Manchester. This interest was to later lead to a business venture, the supply and repair of sound equipment. By age 14 he’d been similarly excited with the emerging aviation industry. Newspapers of 1926 were trumpeting the story of Alan Cobham who had just made aviation history by completing a round trip of 28,000 miles to Australia and back to Westminster on the Thames. As Eric grew to adulthood he took a deep interest in the developing motor and an aviation industry.
The Wall Street financial crash of 1929 spread around the world and made the 1930s a time of great hardship in Australia. At age 18 Eric read the warning of Australian Prime Minister James Scullin that stringent measures had to be taken to curb the ballooning national debt. Scullin lamented the masses of unemployed at the time who’d no useful work to do.
During depression years Eric tells a story of trying to sell products door to door for Sanitarium Health Foods, but he was attempting to sell to those who had little money themselves and generally did not welcome salesmen. Each morning he would place fresh cardboard to cover the holes in the soles of his shoes, as he was too poor to be able to afford new ones. His lack of success at selling door to door caused him to cast about for opportunities to exploit his interest in machines.
In the early 1930’s Eric became interested in Maude Unwin. She worked at the Sanitarium Health Food Company in Brisbane, and that is probably where they met for the first time. The Unwin clan traced their ancestry back to 1590. Their ancestors were tradespeople in England before migrating to Australia. In spite of active discouragement on the part of the Unwin family who felt he’d not be able to adequately care for Maude if married Eric pressed them for acceptance. When the Unwins took a vacation by the sea at Southport, Eric followed them and slept on the beach or camped by the door of their holiday house until the Unwin family finally relented and agreed to them marrying.
Eric and Maude married in South Brisbane 22 February 1933. Eric at 21 was seeking financial stability for his new family and noted on one of his trips to newly developing Brisbane airport repairs for plane instruments had to be attended to in Sydney hundreds of miles south. He somehow convinced the airport authority he was qualified to repair airplane instruments which were quite basic in those days. When asked where to send instruments for repair he told them to send to a firm called Motor Supplies in Brisbane.
He had to do two things quickly. First he had to learn how to fix aircraft instruments. So he borrowed motor instruments from a friend who owned a garage spending the next day pulling these apart and putting them together until he understood the rudiments of how those instruments worked. Of course aircraft instruments were quite different and he had a steep learning curve but was eventually quite successful at repairing them.
Secondly he had to introduce himself to the firm Motor Supplies in Brisbane, and convince them to let him have a corner of their workshop to work at his hoped for trade, and of course the right to use their address. Eventually it was agreed Motor Supplies would host the business and pay Eric commission on the value of work generated. Within a year his commissions were high enough for him to be placed on salary.
Their first child was born 18 September 1937. It was an anxious time for Eric and Maude as a polio epidemic had taken hold in Australia and New Zealand. Parents were being urged by the government to avoid taking their children to large gatherings and even to avoid mixing with other children.
Eric believing the world did not begin or end in Brisbane the capital city, and seeking a place where there’d be less population to expose their child to the epidemic, accepted a position as manager of a garage complex at St George in western Queensland. This garage serviced motor vehicles and planes for a wide area surrounding St George in the sparsely settled west.
Eric had a keen and wide interest in sports. During his brief time spent in west Queensland he purchased a race horse called Bibilah and enjoyed working the outback race courses. He didn’t earn much from his race horse venture but did fairly well in his betting on the races. He also enjoyed following the football circuit until Maude pled with him to cease visiting those events after those tough outback crowds turned on each other using fists and bottles to show their displeasure when their team lost. The west was too wild for her!
However there were other health dangers for a young child. When they almost lost their baby to typhoid because of poor medical service in that remote area, Eric decided to return to Brisbane.
By January 1938 Philip Frankel Pty Ltd, Barry Street, Brisbane had employed him.
The next year was to become an anxious one for Australians. The world was watching the development of the emerging Nazi war machine. Austria had been taken, Britain had pledged to defend France and Poland which would affect Australia part of the Commonwealth as Britain prepared for war. Czechoslovakia had been abandoned by the Allies.
After Eric had worked for Frankel’s for a year they requested he help them rescue an associated business deeply indebted to them. Eric found himself in Gympie 1939 to manage ABC Motors out of debt. Liking country life he decided to buy out the business and built a thriving enterprise consisting of motor accessories, sale of emerging electronic products in town and through van salesmen in surrounding country districts, and a tyre retreading plant.
In early 1940’s Eric took up lawn bowls, which became his passion, resulting in his being a representative for the state in inter-state competitions in later years. He also took an interest in politics topping the poll in local council elections, later trying his hand, unsuccessfully, at election to State Legislature. He remained in local council service into this 70th year receiving a citation from State Government for his contribution to local government.
By the 1940’s Eric had emerged from the poverty of the 1930’s and had through hard work reached middle class affluence. He’d purchased his first home and fitted it out with the luxuries of the time.
Then on December 1 1941 Japan entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Australia found itself involved in two wars, one in support of Britain against Germany, and one against a Japanese army rapidly absorbing The Asia-Pacific and turning its attention toward Australia.
The family expanded with the birth of another boy 12 February 1942, and a third 5 October 1945. This last time it was the anticipated daughter.
During war years Eric was rejected for army service on health grounds. Brothers Arthur and Walter represented the family in the army during those years. Eric’s considerable workforce was decimated to a point where it was only he and a female shop assistant left to run the multiple enterprises. The sales vehicles had to be sold off due to petrol rationing and lack of workers to drive them. Eric worked nights in the retreading plant, fixed radios and electronic items during the day and led out in disaster preparedness war exercises for the city of Gympie. War years further impacted Eric’s health because of his attempts to keep business alive and his day and night work.
1945 May 7 peace came to Europe and battle weary Australian soldiers remaining in Europe looked forward to repatriation to join the push back against the Japanese war machine. But anxiety continued to be the order of the day. Battles had come close to the Australian mainland. Eric’s brother Arthur was in Darwin when Japanese aircraft bombed the city. His other brother Walter was serving in New Guinea under frightful circumstances.
A hospital ship laden with medical staff and wounded had been sunk in close proximity to Moreton Bay, the entrance to the state capital Brisbane. Hundreds of lives had been lost. Submarines had entered Sydney Harbour far to the south. Flashes of the battle for the Coral Sea could be seen over the horizon from mountains behind the north eastern city of Cairns. Pathetic air raid shelters had been constructed behind every home and the city of Gympie was patrolled by citizens with gas masks at the ready.
But on August 15, 1945 Emperor Horohito instructed his troops to lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally. The price Japan had paid for its militancy was too great. Two cities had been wiped out by the atomic blasts and the world was temporarily free of conflict, but a new world order had been created out of the ashes. In the city of Gympie there was an explosion of joy as the city and its far flung districts came together to celebrate. Dancing in the streets went on through the night
Following the war Eric sold business interests and purchased a farm at Mooloo in the Gympie district. The plan was that share farmers would run the farm while Eric recovered his health. Unfortunately share farmers were in short supply as the war had heavily impacted the labour supply. The couple selected received a better offer and left. Eric became an instant farmer, learning by trial and error how to care for herds, plantations and vegetable farming. The drought of 1949 almost pushed him into bankruptcy, but with loans from banks, and clever buying and selling of properties and timber interests he traded his way back to prosperity.
After WWII in the 1950’s Eric was back in Gympie running a timber business with a fleet of trucks. He re-entered Gympie City Council, eventually becoming Deputy Mayor of the City. Spare time was largely devoted to lawn bowls at which he excelled accumulating many awards.
His daughter was the last of the children to leave home with her marriage 1 January 1967. Eric disposed of his timber interests, and in partnership with Maude opened a Women’s Ware Salon “Grice’s” in Mary Street, Gympie. They remained in this trade until retirement well into their 70 years.
Maude died 17 October 1991 after 58 years of marriage. From that point on Eric rapidly deteriorated in health mourning the loss of his life partner. Eric died while residing with his daughter in Sydney 14 October 1993. He was buried beside Maude in the Gympie cemetery.
He had in his time been a man of the people, promoting their welfare during his political career, compassionate to those in need, a firm believer in the brotherhood of mankind with no racial prejudices though a deep indignation against those in world power who had manipulated their people into conflict. He was honest and honourable in his dealings, a keen sportsman and a nurturing family man.
His legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014 All rights reserved”